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Congressman Al Lawson

Representing the 5th District of Florida

Opinion: Hurricanes Harvey, Irma highlight importance of food assistance during disaster

September 19, 2017
In The News

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25, and by the time it drifted through the region, it would break the record for rainfall of any other storm in the history of the continental United States. The devastation to the area is saddening; the cost to human life, infrastructure, and economic productivity is expected to exceed that of Sandy and Andrew.

As cleanup efforts from Harvey are just getting underway, Florida is bracing for one of the most powerful storms ever documented in the Atlantic Ocean – Hurricane Irma. While we wait for the path of Irma to take shape, Congress is assembling a relief package for Harvey victims, with Florida in mind.

I want to highlight several disaster relief programs already in place, specifically food assistance programs, that could be crucial to helping our most vulnerable in a natural disaster. Food assistance and the Food Stamp program can play a substantial role in disaster relief.

However, real-time changes in these programs to alleviate real-time devastation and starvation in our neighborhoods require the state of Florida to petition the U.S. Department of Agriculture for additional support.

Like Texas’ requests for disaster food assistance during Harvey, the state of Florida is in an excellent position to ensure Floridians have adequate nourishment in what could be difficult times. If Irma makes landfall,Florida can make several requests of the USDA that lighten the load for Floridians:

  • Ask that Food Stamp recipients be allowed to purchase hot and ready-to-eat meals when other forms of food are no longer available.  
     
  • Activate an evacuee policy that allows affected residents to receive Food Stamps if they have evacuated to another state, and were not eligible prior.
     
  • Request the USDA significantly increase the number of food packages for food banks through Commodity Supplemental Food and other programs.  
     
  • Coordinate with FEMA to deliver millions of pounds of USDA commodities to homes, shelters and families in the most desperate of situations.
     
  • Request that low-income mothers be able to replace lost, spoiled or damaged baby formula and baby food.
     
  • Offer additional Food Stamp benefits to families to allow them to replace food lost as a result of the storm.   
     
  • Allow the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program to continue to serve displaced students at any number of schools throughout the state.

If Irma is anything like Harvey in terms of damage, I look forward to working with local, state, and federal officials to guarantee that food assistance is a vital part of Florida’s recovery efforts. I encourage all my fellow Floridians to take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety and security during this time.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson represents Florida’s new 5th congressional district from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. Originally from Gadsden County, he is a FAMU and FSU alum and was a state legislator for 28 years.